- Questions have been swirling about explosions at a Russian base in Crimea since early August.
- Russia called them accidents, while others suggested Ukrainian special forces may have been involved.
- Ukrainian military leaders said in an op-ed on Wednesday that it was a series of missile strikes.
Mysterious and damaging explosions at a Russian airbase far from the front lines in occupied Crimea last month were part of a combined attack involving a “series of successful missile strikes” meant to bring the consequences of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine closer to home for the Russian people, Ukrainian military officials revealed on Wednesday.
The war in Ukraine is “remote” for many “average Russians” living in Russia and Russian-controlled areas, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine; and Lt. Gen. Mykhailo Zabrodskyi, first deputy chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s National Security, Defense, and Intelligence Committee; wrote in an op-ed.
Because of the distance, “they perceive not so painfully all the losses, failures, and most importantly, costs of this war in all its senses,” the two military officials wrote in a post published by Ukraine’s state news agency Ukrinform.
The pair explained that there have been efforts to “physically transfer the zone of hostilities to the temporarily occupied territory” of Crimea, most notably through a series of missile strikes “on the enemy’s Crimea-based air bases, first of all, the Saki airfield.”
They said that should the war continue into 2023, the aim will be to “make these experiences even sharper and more tangible for the Russians and for other occupied regions, despite the massive distance to the targets.”
The first official explanation for the attacks
Wednesday’s op-ed appears to mark the first public acknowledgement of not only Ukraine’s involvement in the attack on Saki Air Base but also the first official explanation of how Ukraine executed the attack, which the Russians characterized as an accidental ammunition dump explosion.
Russia’s Saki Air Base near Novofedorivka erupted in explosions on August 9, sparking speculation of Ukrainian involvement even as Russia downplayed the incident, which was later followed by explosions elsewhere.
Ukraine didn’t take credit for the blasts, which officials say knocked out 10 Russian Su-24 and Su-30M aircraft. Western intelligence said it crippled the combat capability of the naval aviation elements of the Black Sea fleet.
But a number of unnamed Ukrainian officials hinted at Ukrainian involvement in comments to the media.
A Ukrainian government official told the Washington Post that the attack on Saki was carried out by special forces, while a Ukrainian presidential advisor suggested it was hit by either ranged weaponry or local partisans, according to the Associated Press.
In a different article, a US official told the Post that it appeared Ukraine had used a long-range weapon, though not one provided by the US, and a Ukrainian official told The New York Times that the explosions at the base were caused by a “a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture.”
In an address in August, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that officials needed to keep any information they had to themselves.
An attempted blow to Russian morale
Jeffrey Edmonds, a former CIA analyst and current Russia expert at the Center for Naval Analyses, previously told Insider that the nature of the damage at the base looked like a missile strike and said that if Ukraine had carried out a long-range strike deep behind the lines, it indicated that rear positions were no longer safe havens.
—Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) August 9, 2022
The attacks brought the war to what Russia considers to be Russian territory, making it real for people far from the front lines.
“The picture of that is the people on the beach in Crimea, the large explosion behind them,” he told Insider on Wednesday, referring to the above image that the Ukrainian military highlighted afterwards, among others.
Edmonds added that this kind of capability, which may still be very limited if it’s a new Ukrainian-developed capability, will likely impact Russian morale if Ukraine develops an ability to strike areas from which Russia could previously operate with impunity.
Zaluzhnyi and Zabrodskyi called particular attention to the “impunity that the lack of physical proximity ensures,” arguing “this is the true Center of Gravity for the enemy” and that Ukraine has “no right to leave it without proper attention.”
The Ukrainian officials stressed the need to focus on and target Russia’s “source of confidence, readiness, and most importantly, the need for the Russian leadership and society to support the war on Ukraine.”